Should I unpack my case or explore my surroundings first? The view from the chalet over the Chobe River provided a compelling answer to this common holiday dilemma. The cobalt-blue waters sparkled like gemstones in the sun as they continued their eternal struggle with expansionist grasses for dominion over the floodplains of Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, a spur of land lodged spear-like between Botswana and Zambia. I tried to answer the call, but my exit was blocked by a warthog devouring the lawn on bended front knees. He seemed oblivious not only to my presence but also to the view, now enhanced by elephants filing along a sandbank upriver, a welcoming delegation from Chobe National Park’s 120,000-strong population. A river viewing platform promised a front row seat, but this warthog was not for turning.
Botswana specialises in safari holidays that put you in the thick of the wildlife action while pampering you in some of Africa’s finest lodges. One minute you are in a jeep rattling over dirt tracks and scattering herds of impala on the trail of the Big Five; the next you are relaxing in a spa with a masseur kneading out knots where the jeep’s suspension failed to cushion you. As for warthogs, they kneel to feed due to their short necks and relatively long legs, and have even evolved special kneepads for this purpose.
By staying at Chobe Game Lodge, I followed in the footsteps of celebrity visitors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It is Botswana’s oldest five-star safari lodge and the only one on the Chobe Riverfront within the boundaries of the National Park, which enables guests to get an early morning jump on rival safari operators. The lodge blends luxury with tradition. Its adobe-style walls in calming pastel shades are decorated with African masks, statues and watercolours, and end in high arches overlooking a lush lawn that slopes down to a riverfront teaming with wildlife. Beaming porters in pith helmets and safari suits vie with hostesses in dazzling orange robes to cater to the guest’s every whim. At sumptuous dinner buffets, chefs in puffy white hats cook to order on huge hotplates.
For those who tire of being pampered and whose thirst for adventure is quenched, the ideal antidote may be a Botswanan sundowner, served against backdrops as varied as the drinks. During my trip, I was served from jeeps parked in a circle in the bush, like Wild West wagons in defensive formation; from a lone jeep surrounded by endless grasslands, where wispy tips nodding in the breeze contrasted with immobile, skeletal trees; from a riverbank overlooking hippos who propelled themselves from the water to lock gaping mouths in silent wrestling matches; and from launches bobbing on the channels of the Okavango Delta, where trees, reeds, islands and boats were silhouetted against the orange globe melting into the horizon.
With the dying embers of dusk, I returned to find the warthog still chomping away and equally indifferent to his surroundings. While I had been on a long game drive ticking off the Big Five, capped off by that sundowner, the warthog had made excellent progress on the gardening and was surely one of the Lodge’s most productive workers that day.